It is not possible to be at more than one table at the same time, especially in topics such as Ukraine, where tensions are at critical levels, Erkin Öncan writes.
It would be more appropriate to call this crisis a ’Russia-US/NATO crisis’, rather than Russia-Ukraine.
While the Western world continues its strategy of containing Russia at full speed, under the leadership of the USA, the Western media (propaganda device at all) continues to pump the opposite narrative: the so-called Russian occupation.
The ’Russian occupation’ narrative featured in the Western media is actually not about the steps that Russia will take militarily. This narrative is directly related to the interests of the Western empire. Besides, this ’invasion’ propaganda will cause Ukraine to become more dependent on the West. This situation enabled NATO to refresh its blood at exactly the right time, in a period when the alliance has started to be questioned even by its members.
Western media, successfully fulfilling their historical mission, continue theur disinformation efforts in line with NATO interests, by trampling on the journalistic principles they frequently voiced: Russia’s so-called invasion of Ukraine, the ’annexation’ of Crimea, the Russian separatists ’dividing’ Ukraine, and so on…
NATO’s historical role
The ’ghost of communism’ circulating in Europe in the 19th century and the ideas of equality and freedom have become much more than a ’ghost’ with the chain of socialist revolutions and national liberation movements that started to break out in the first half of the 1900s.
The uprisings and revolutions of the oppressed nations around the world have become the biggest obstacle to the global exploitation of the imperialist system. In the 1950s, Imperialism needed a tool to remove this obstacle and to establish a world of war and exploitation: NATO.
NATO was structured by imperialism, especially against the USSR, to take a position against all kinds of progressive movements around the world, under the pretext of ’the threat of communism’. The biggest argument used by this greatest apparatus of aggression to create legitimacy for itself could be none other than a ’possible Soviet invasion’.
Today, under the leadership of the US, NATO’s rhetoric and strategy are proceeding in exactly the same way. The only difference is that the ’USSR’ was replaced by the ’Russian Federation’. The Soviets no longer exist, but there is Russia, still surrounded by aggressors and Nazis.
NATO and Turkey
In this scenario, one of the most curious regional actors is Turkey. Although Turkey, as a NATO member, has acted in the interests of NATO and the USA for many years, it is not possible to say the same, especially for the last five-year period.
The relations between Turkey and the USA have been in a deteriorating trend recently, and it can be clearly seen that steps have been taken on the ground that contradict each other’s interests, despite the parties’ endless statements of ’partnership’.
To understand Turkey’s stance on Ukraine, it is important to briefly recall Turkey’s NATO adventure:
Coming to the 1950s, Turkey was at the beginning of the liquidation process of the Kemalist Revolution, which was generously helped by the USSR. Due to its location, this country was a candidate to be the ’outpost’ of the USA in the region, and the Menderes government of the time was ’perfectly cut out’ to guard this outpost. The anti-communist propaganda and the ’Soviet threat’ that was frequently voiced were also the password for Turkey’s entrance into the ’Little America’ process.
Turkey, which joined NATO on February 18, 1952, has since been reshaped according to its strategy, that is, the US military and political interests, from its National Security Strategy to its ’threat perception’, from its army structure to its military planning.
This ’Little America’ process, which started, brought with it counter-guerrilla structures such as the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), Special Warfare Department, which were shaped by the American intelligence.
Turkey’s NATO process, which started in 1952, has been the main factor determining Turkey’s regional and international role for many years, regardless of the political identities of the governments in power, despite the political crises experienced from time to time. However, this long-lasting ’loyalty’ (some would say friendship or cooperation) was severely damaged after the attempted coup d’état against Erdogan’s AKP government on July 15, 2016.
In fact, the Erdogan government itself had come to power with its close messages to the European Union and the United States, and with political steps in line with the interests of the Western camp. However, the Erdogan administration’s enthusiasm for working with the Western camp began to falter to the extent that it conflicted with US interests in the region.
In Turkey’s domestic politics, it resulted in the deterioration of relations between the AKP and its old ’coalition partner’, the US-backed fundamentalist Fethullah Gülen-led movement. (later it started to be defined as a ’parallel state’ and later a terrorist organization). This also helped to boost the break-up with the US.
On the other hand, although the steps taken by the USA on Syria won support of the Erdogan administration on the borders of ’anti-Assad’, the USA’s choice of the YPG for its Syria plans and the large amount of weapons and financial aid it provided became another important factor that spoiled relations. The YPG is considered a branch of Turkey’s long-time enemy PKK and designated as a terrorist organization.
In the same historical period as relations with the United States were strained, the Erdogan administration ’started to explore’ its northern neighbor, Russia. Despite high-tension topics, such as the downed Russian plane and the killing of Russian Ambassador to Ankara Andrey Karlov (these events were described by the Erdogan administration as the activities of the Gülen organization), relations with Russia continued to improve with various agreements, including the most ’shocking one’ for NATO: Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems.
But, when we analyze Turkey’s relations with the USA and Russia from an overview, it is possible to say that the development potential of relations with Russia still depends on the level of tension between Turkey and the US. Even in the S-400 discussions between Turkey and the United States, Erdogan’s administration and its staff have repeatedly argued that ‘Turkey was forced to do this to ensure its own security’ and that the NATO allies, especially the United States, ‘did not act in accordance with the spirit of alliance’.
Therefore, Turkey, despite its potential to be an important partner for Russia, evaluates its relations with Russia in terms of the possibility of severing it from the United States.
What can Turkey do about Ukraine?
On the Ukraine issue, it is possible to see the same attitude mentioned above in Turkish high-level officials, especially Erdogan. First of all, the Erdogan administration, which has assumed the role of a ’regional actor’, reminds that its place on the NATO front is fixed at the end of the day, even though it takes its steps in this direction by using a policy of balance.
Precisely for this reason, it is possible to define it as a ’zigzag policy’ rather than a balance policy.
The Erdogan administration’s first wish for Ukraine is ’no war’. However, Erdogan stated that Turkey is ready to ‘take all steps’ to prevent a war in Ukraine, while at the same time he declared that they ‘respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity’ and ‘always oppose Russia’s invasion of Crimea’. On the other hand, it is an important to note that the Erdogan administration, which does not want war in the region, continues to sell Bayraktar unmanned aerial vehicles to Ukraine.
Again, Erdogan says: ‘We need to tell Russia why some of its demands are unacceptable,’ on the Ukraine crisis, and at the same time criticizes the US and NATO’s weapon aid to the YPG in Syria.
Alongside Erdoğan, another important figure in Turkish politics, Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar, said: ‘Sharing NATO’s values and responsibilities, Turkey has successfully fulfilled all the duties and missions entrusted to it since 1952. NATO is the most successful defense alliance in history. We believe that the alliance is more active and alive than ever before.’
These seemingly contradictory statements of Erdoğan are not only related to the zigzags between the USA and Russia, but also directly related to his own party and political tradition. ’Americanism’ is still a very strong political trend in Turkey’s political circles. The narrative of ‘Russian politics’’ in Turkey is still heavily influenced by the anti-Russian rhetoric that marked the country’s last 50 years. It is possible to see a considerable level of ’Russophobia’ in Turkish political circles. Therefore, Turkey, which goes back and forth between the USA and Russia, seems to continue to play this balance game for a while.
The Turkish conservative-right politics represented by the AKP often use a phrase to explain this zigzag policy: ‘We will be at every table.’ Acting with this spirit, the AKP administration aims to get the most profit from every table it sits at.
However, it is clear that it is not possible to be at more than one table at the same time, especially in topics such as Ukraine, where tensions rise at critical levels. Moreover, while every actor in the region has their own chair where they can sit safely, Turkey still walks around the tables for now.
Turkey’s stance on Ukraine is critical. But, as NATO increases the level of aggression against Russia day by day, the usual strategy of Turkey, which wants to play a mediator role between Russia and the United States, will not work. The Ukrainian agenda has become too hot to be postponed with the usual peace wishes. Turkey will have to choose a side one way or another.
This goal will never be achieved as long as Erdogan’s administration and AKP, who say they ‘aim to be a playmaker in the regional and international arena’, index Turkey’s destiny to ‘asking for one more chance every time’ from NATO and the USA.